Tom Waits – Nighthawks At The Diner

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

A stunning Top Copy of this Tom Waits classic! A superb recording, with much credit due to Waits’ constant collaborator Bones Howe who produced and engineered. It’s a live-in-the-studio romp through Los Angeles with Waits playing the role of tour guide, and the results are wonderful.

At its best, this album has the immediacy and energy of a real live performance, but the typical copy just doesn’t bring it to life. This one is a big step up on all four sides, with the kind of life and clarity we just don’t hear often enough! Side two in particular has the kind of superb clarity and three-dimensional soundstage that puts you right there in the studio.

This album was recorded live at The Record Plant back in 1975, and, while I can’t be certain, it sure seems there are no overdubs or post-performance additions. There’s a touch of hardness to the vocals at times, but it was on every copy we played and it’s obviously on the tape. It’s the kind of sound we hear on Johnny Cash records and it just seems like a by-product of the microphones these guys used. It doesn’t seem to far a reach to imagine that an iconoclast like Waits might prefer an old-timey microphone sound that doesn’t soften or smooth his vocal style. (For those in search of buttery vocals, there’s usually an Al Stewart record or two on the site. This ain’t the one for you.) (more…)

Letter of the Week – Tea for the Tillerman and Santana

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

I have listened to my copy the day it arrived. I’m not very good at describing the sound of an album, that’s why I love reading your commentaries, because it accurately describes what I actually hear.

The HS Tillerman is now my reference album where I test all improvements/adjustments I make in my system or my turntable. All the Hot Stamper copies I have bought from you really beat all other copies I have.

A good example is my Hot Stamper Santana.The instruments sound tonally right, distinctly separate from each other. There is no harshness on the top end and the bass is tight and defined.

I had five copies of the album before I got my HS copy, all are”360″ including a WLP copy. None of the five came close to the sound of my Hot Stamper. (more…)

Shelly Manne – Manne – That’s Gershwin!

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  • KILLER sound from start to finish with each side earning a Triple Plus (A+++) grade for its Shootout Winning sound, or one very close to it 
  • “The Gershwin program includes some of the typical familiar standards but also versions of the lesser-known “By Strauss,” “The Real American Folk Song,” “Prelude #2” and “Theme from Concert in F… this music generally swings, leaves space for concise solos and is fairly fresh.” – All Music

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Frank Sinatra – Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

This nearly White Hot side two showed us just how good sounding this original Tri-Color Reprise original pressing could sound. Don’t get me wrong; they have their share of problems, but the better copies are as musical and enjoyable as many of the best Capitol releases from Sinatra’s prime period. (Most of which sound dreadful by the way, due to Capitol’s awful mastering. Just play an early Beatles album to hear what I’m talking about.)

This very side two was the most tonally correct and musically enjoyable of any second side we played. We call it A++ to A+++. (If we could find ten more clean originals we could probably come up with a Triple Plus side two, but considering how many years it took us to find the copies we had on hand to do our shootout, that is probably not in the cards.)

Check out the great material on the album, with lively, fun (even goofy) arrangements by Neil Hefti: Goody Goody; They Can’t Take That Away from Me; I’m Beginning to See the Light; I Get a Kick Out of You; Tangerine; Serenade in Blue. This is the kind of material Sinatra can really sink his teeth into! (more…)

Joe Pass – Portraits Of Duke Ellington

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

Maybe it’s the fact that there are only three instruments playing, live in the studio, that accounts for the amazing recording quality. Nobody knows, certainly not us, but the one thing we can say for sure is that you will have a very hard time finding a guitar trio album that sounds remotely as good as this one does.

And the music is by The Duke himself. How great is that? Can’t fault the song choices in any way; they’re all classics: Satin Doll; Sophisticated Lady; I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good); In A Mellowtone; Don’t Get Around Much Anymore; Do Nothin’ ‘Till You Hear From Me and more.

Watch for more Joe Pass albums coming to the site. After hearing this album, and enjoying the hell out of it, we’re hunting down everything we can get our hands on to audition. I’d be surprised if we find another album with sound this good, but in the land of records you just never know.

Bread and Elektra on Vinyl – Balancing Richness and Tubey Magic with Transparency, Clarity and Speed

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you go about critically evaluating your copies of Bread.

Manna has the clear signature of Elektra from the late ’60s and early ’70s. It’s unmistakably ANALOG, but that double-edged sword cuts both ways. Richness and Tubey Magic (the kind you had in your old ’70s stereo equipment) often comes at the expense of transparency, clarity, speed and transient information (the things your ’70s equipment probably had more trouble with).

We heard a lot of copies that were opaque, smeary and dull up top, so the trick for us (and for those of you doing your own shootouts) is to find a copy with the resolving power and transparency that will cut through the thickness. (more…)

Sade – Diamond Life

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

This copy gives you the kind of present, breathy vocals that are absolutely critical to the success of this music . There’s no denying the power of Sade’s sultry voice when you can actually hear it. All it takes is a top copy such as this to make her talents — and those of her bandmates — abundantly clear.

You can be sure this album was a big hit at the audio shows back in the day; this music can really bring out the best in a stereo — especially on a killer copy like this one! We played a big stack of copies this week, and most of them just didn’t do it for us. Most lack transparency; most are recessed, with the sound stuck behind the speakers; and few of them really open up spatially the way the best can, showing you a huge room full of players with space surrounding each and every one of them.

Another quality we found wanting on many copies was rhythmic energy. Some pressings had it and some just laid there on the turntable. The best copies really bring out the percussion and bass; you find yourself moving with the music. (more…)

The Rolling Stones – Stripped – Reviewed in 2009

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The best record The Rolling Stones made in the last 20 years! Superb (but very modern) sound. 

All tracks recorded in performance at The Paradisco Club, Amsterdman, Holland; The Olympia Theatre, Paris, France; and rehearsals in Tokyo, Japan, Lisbon and Portugal.

West, Bruce & Laing – Why Dontcha

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  • Stunning sound throughout with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on side one and solid Double Plue (A++) sound on side two  
  • Big, full-bodied and Tubey Magical with much smoother, noticeably more natural sound than practically any other copy we played
  • Include’s the trio’s biggest hit, “The Doctor”, which sounds phenomenal on this White Hot Side one
  • “Their debut album, Why Dontcha, continued with the heavy blues and rock templates already familiar to fans of both Cream and Mountain… a wonderful effort by some amazingly talented musicians… Cream meets Mountain… put it on, and turn it up…loud.” – Consequence of Sound

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Hugo Winterhalter – Goes Latin – Our Shootout Winner from 2014

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

1959 Tubey Magical Living Stereo sound like you will not believe! Both sides are nearly White Hot, with shocking amounts of space and depth. This is RCA’s approach to Exotica, with the added benefit of Living Stereo strings. Gorgeous harmonically rich percussion – the tambourine is to die for

This record lives and dies by its Tubey Magical Stereoscopic presentation and the heavily percussive arrangements. In all of these areas and more this copy excels.

1959 Tubey Magic

If you’re an audiophile, both the sound and the music are crazy fun. If you want to demonstrate just how good 1959 All Tube Analog sound can be, this is the record that will do it!

This copy is super spacious, sweet and positively dripping with live-in-the-studio ambience. Talk about Tubey Magic, the sound here is PHENOMENAL. This is vintage analog at its best, so rich and relaxed you’ll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to “improve” it.

Regrettably no recordings will ever be made like this again. Worse, and no CD or digital media seems capable of capturing what is in the grooves of this record.

Side One

This side is doing pretty much everything right — it’s big, lively, super clear and high-rez wiith TONS of space around all of the instruments, a wonderfully extended top end, and all the energy you could ever want.

Listen to how clear and harmonically rich the guitars are on the second track!

Side Two

The music may be a bit goofy but the sound is so good it quickly pulls you into the fun. (more…)